Has the Western world finally and conveniently rejected the concept of truth? Or is it still possible to discover real truth, a comprehensive, consistent reality?
Before the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to the religious leaders, and the will of the gathered crowds, Pontius Pilate famously washed his hands of all personal responsibility. After cross examination, he rightly concluded that “he found no fault in Him”. He was right.
Pilate needed to appease his uncomfortable conscience. A conscience that had been challenged by the words of the Lord Jesus. He had told Pilate that “He was born and came into the world to bear witness to The Truth, and that everyone that is of The Truth would hear His voice.” What did Christ mean by The Truth?
Truth up for grabs?
It seems as never before, in the Western world, the concept and existence of objective truth is up for grabs. What is it and why do we even need it?
Former President of the US, President Obama, spoke recently not of tooth decay, but “truth decay”. He was highlighting that in the West, the existence of a universal concept of truth, is rapidly disappearing.
The oft-mentioned expression of President Obama’s successor, President Trump, was a new term “Fake News”. He challenged head-on the power of social media and news channels to spread stories, that in his opinion, had no basis of truth or legitimacy. Ironically, social media has now responded by posting notices disputing many of his claims and seeking to ‘fact-check’ them.
Another evidence of the concept of objective truth being challenged is the current popularity for crazy conspiracy theories. They circulate on social media, and are believed by many, but no meaningful evidence is ever provided. Whether it be the health risks of 5G or Bill Gates’ apparently long held ambition to micro-chip the world, via a compulsory global vaccine, if such a thing were even possible.
It seems that we are in the middle of a ‘truth crisis’. One that threatens the authority of politicians and the safe and efficient functioning of society. People no longer know what to believe anymore. No wonder there is so much uncertainty. Sadly, this comes when certainty is desperately needed.
Post-truth in a Post-Christian era
We should not be surprised. For seventy years, there has been a growing rejection of the concept of objective truth. This rejection of truth has coincided with the West moving into what is widely called the “Post-Christian” era.
It was highlighted in Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1951 book “Truth Unchanged, Unchanging” based on lectures he gave in 1947 at Wheaton College. The foreword reads: “What is man? What is wrong with the human race?” Unless we answer these questions correctly, we cannot hope to solve the problems in our world.
In this new Post-Christian era, a vacuum has been created. Caused by the shift away from a largely universally accepted body of consistent objective truth. Truth and values held securely by lawmakers, leaders, and society for centuries.
We have rejected a time-tested, consistent set of absolutes. Absolutes like the intrinsic value and sanctity of life, the necessity of transparency and honesty, submission to the authority of the God-given institutions. These and many others are bedrock truths of the Bible. The changing laws on abortion and the re-defining of gender are examples of this shift from absolute standards, to the truth of relativism and convenience.
Alternatives to truth
Instead we have replaced Absolutes with many versions of the truth. What is filling this vacuum in the Post-Christian era? Firstly, it is the ‘law of the jungle’, which is no law, or at best a constantly moving view of what is right and wrong. A mind-set which is individually determined, and therefore inevitably inconsistent. A set of relative values. ‘What’s good for me, now in this situation’, rather than what is essential and right for everyone always. “
In the absence of truth, “power is the only game in town.” said Richard John Neuhaus. The extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany proved the utter fallacy of this position.
An elevated new role has been given to experts, whose views and opinions we are asked to accept as truth. Afterall, they “cannot be wrong, they are globally renowned in their narrow field”.
The problem with so-called experts is that very often they do not agree. Or their advice shifts and contradictions and inconsistencies creep in. This is entirely understandable as the information they are responding to, and their personal knowledge of it, is at best limited and itself changing.
A further alternative is the new role that data is playing in our everyday lives. The data that comes out of social media ‘likes’, focus groups and the surveys. The Data cannot be wrong, they say.
But this is the same data which then feeds the algorithms, which feeds our personal news flow, which shapes our opinions, which feeds the focus groups, and so the circle goes on. It is just another version of the contradictory law of the jungle.
What is Truth?
We need to come back to the question that Pilate cynically asked, “what is truth.” He gave it as a cynical answer, more than as a question. An excuse, and an attempt to get away from the facts he had been presented with.
Like him, we too do not want to face up to the statements of the Lord Jesus Christ. We would rather question and pour scorn on the existence of something called truth, than to face up to the consequences for each of us individually.
In order to get an understanding of the defining characteristics of the truth, we must go to the Bible. There is only one place to find such a definition, and we believe that is the Word of God.
Before we go there for a definition, why does the Bible have any authority to define truth? Three points will suffice. First, it claims to be The Truth. “Thy word is truth” John 17:17. Second, it has stood the test of time. Third, it is totally consistent, which is unsurprising, as it is divine revelation from the changeless God who cannot lie.
The Bible has been helpfully defined as:
“A reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report to us supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophesies, and claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.”
When the Bible uses the word truth (alethia), it means “that which corresponds to reality, what is factual, absolute, not relative”. This kind of truth has a number of inherent characteristics which define what it is, and why it is liberating, desirable and necessary. Here are just 7 of its essential features:
- God is Truth and Truth is God: it comes from Him, is defined by Him, and He is the embodiment and personification of truth through Christ Jesus.
- Truth is Consistent: it cannot contradict itself; if it does, logically one part will either be true and the other false or vice a versa.
- Truth is Timeless: if it is not true from the beginning of time and to the end of time then it never was and never will be true.
- Truth is Proven: in order for it to be universally accepted it must have been tested repeatedly and evidenced to be true in order to be the Truth.
- Truth is Comprehensive: it is a set of holistic principles dealing with and applicable to all areas, phases and facets of life.
- Truth is Objective and Real: it conforms with reality as opposed to being purely subjective and dependent on what I feel or think.
- Truth is Universal: it must be true in every situation and in every place, and for every person.
The Bible tells us that The Truth is embodied in and revealed by a person. Not an abstract, unknowable force or set of inconsistent opinions. But in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
In this Post-Christian age of uncertainty, relativism, and truth decay, may many discover the timeless truth, revealed in the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ Himself, who tells us that “The truth shall make you free. “ John 8:32